The MacRostie Art Center (MAC) in downtown Grand Rapids is featuring Minnesota-based artists, Blair Treuer, Nikki Shull, and Jim DeVries for its July 2021 exhibitions. DeVries, a naturalist at the Laurentian Environmental Center in Britt, Minn., for the past 30 years, took a unique path to find his artistic passion. Before he found a creative outlet in art, DeVries described his work at the environmental center as a way to “engage people with stories or by developing fun ways to introduce nature to the school children who visited the center.” While he thoroughly enjoyed this expression of his creativity, he stated he “always felt like there was something missing.” But once he began drawing and painting again, DeVries affirms “it just felt right.” In an interview with DeVries, he explains his untraditional beginnings in art as well as his new exhibition at the MAC’s Emerging Artist Gallery in Grand Rapids’ Old Central School, available to view through the month of July.
Have you always lived in Minnesota?
I have lived in Minnesota since 1980 and on the Iron Range as a full-time resident since 1990. Prior to living in Minnesota, I lived in several places around the Midwest.
How did you become interested in art?
I have always been interested in art. As a school-aged child, art class was my favorite, and it was also where I could achieve high marks. When I was in my first two years of college, I took several art classes and was very inspired. At the end of my second year, a painting teacher told me that I didn’t have the skills to make it as an artist. So, with my enthusiasm crushed, I put art aside for over 40 years.
When did you begin creating your own artwork?
One rainy Saturday in 2016, I borrowed my daughter’s Crayola watercolor set and did my first painting in 40 years. It felt really good to be creating again, and that started my daily practice of drawing or painting.
What are your preferred mediums to work in and why?
My preferred mediums are pen and ink or any water-based paints. (Watercolor, acrylics, and gouache). Sometimes I combine watercolor and ink to create fun works with extra detail. I started using the water-based mediums because I didn’t want the smell of turpentine drifting through our house daily. Now that I’m a few years into the process, I feel like I’m beginning to understand how the medium works and don’t have a desire to change. Pen and ink have been a fun medium to work in as I can achieve amazing details with finer pens.
How did you connect with the MacRostie Art Center?
I have participated in the Holiday Shop and have had a few items for sale in the art store for a few years. Ashley Kolka-Lee was the one who reached out to me to participate in the emerging artist gallery. It was an easy decision because I have always thought of the MacRostie as the premier gallery of northern Minnesota and was honored to be asked to exhibit there.
Can you describe your art exhibition at the MacRostie’s Emerging Artist Gallery?
My art is inspired by both my work and play in the outdoors. In this exhibit, I have several wildlife art pieces done in different mediums. I also enjoy doing landscapes and you will find a few of those as well.
What was your inspiration for creating this exhibit?
I am fortunate to have encounters with wildlife of many different species almost daily. Those encounters often come through in my artwork. I am in awe of the water, woods, and landscapes of Northeastern Minnesota and enjoy drawing or painting many of the beautiful scenes around my home.
What do you hope others will gain by viewing your artwork?
I hope people enjoy looking at the art I have created and maybe even feel the same connection to nature as I have in creating this art.
The public may view the exhibit by Jim DeVries, as well as Blair Treuer’s, “Portraits: An Identity Exploration” and Nikki Shull’s, Quillin’ It: Life in Paper,” both virtually at macrostieartcenter.org or in person at MacRostie Art Center and Old Central School in downtown Grand Rapids this month. To see more of DeVries work, visit his Instagram page ¬– @jdevries_artist.